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The other day on Twitter, I saw this tweet from Emily Everett in the #writingcommunity chat:
Writing community, help me out - I sometimes get novel feedback that I shouldn't use contractions in narration, only in dialogue. I've always used them because it's a fairly close 3rd person limited, in and out of character's mind without signaling it. Thoughts?I immediately answered her with "bad advice" and why I thought so, but this entire thread of writers also chiming in with "this is not correct and don't listen to these critiques" made me wonder how much bad advice is out there in the writing world, how many of us are listening to it--whether on social media, in unhealthy critique groups, in professionals who don't know what they're doing--and how do we stop this!
Now, if you're expecting a clear answer to this dilemma, please don't be disappointed when you get to the end of this post, and I don't have one. I'll admit tackling this problem is still something I'm mulling over. I seem to be encountering more and more writers these days who have a story similar to Emily's, where someone in the industry has told this writer an absolute (such as don't ever write a rhyming picture book) or wrong advice (describing your characters' race is unacceptable these days). So I came up with a couple tips that I've been sharing with other writers and that I'm implementing myself:
1. Listen to your gut! I can't stress this enough. Most of the time, you know if someone is giving you bad advice and/or the critique you received is just wrong for you and your work. We doubt ourselves too much in my opinion; and if your gut is telling you that this person does not know what he/she is talking about, then discuss this with other writers whom you trust. By the way, here at WOW!, we're always happy to help with this. You can leave us a personal message on Facebook or on Twitter, and we will answer your question or direct you to someone who can.
2. If it's an absolute, it's probably wrong: Now, someone reading this post will come up with an absolute that is not wrong, and that's fine--this is why I said PROBABLY because I don't want to use an absolute when giving advice. (smiles) But honestly, there are very few rules in the writing world that some author hasn't already broken--and was probably told never to do it before she broke the rule. J.K. Rowling was told that her first Harry Potter book was much too long for her audience of readers and that no young reader would ever stick with a fantasy book that long. J.K. is laughing all the way to the bank!
We'd love to hear any stories of bad advice you didn't listen to in the comments below or if you have some tips for how to decide if what someone is telling you is correct.
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